Family a powerful influence on study abroad decisions

While students clearly play an important role in deciding where to study abroad, it is often the parents that have incredible influence over the final choice of study destination. In fact, as ICEF Monitor reported in August, a recent study in China revealed that 65% of the time, the final decision with respect to destination country, programme, and educational institution was made by the parents.

Lately, we have seen this trend amongst international students in Australia and the US too, so today we take a closer look at how family connections are shaping study abroad decision making, and what institutions and recruitment agents can do in response.

When choosing to study in Australia, it’s a family affair

Family connections are emerging as a powerful factor influencing international students’ choice of destination, reports The Australian.

A survey of 2,160 international students in Australia conducted last month showed that nearly one in five of them had a sibling who was studying or had studied in Australia. In addition, 77% were studying in the same city as their sibling, with 38% attending the same institution. Further, one in four had a close family member living in the student’s destination city.

The research was presented by Rob Lawrence, from Prospect Research and Marketing, at the Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) in Melbourne earlier this month.

“We need to start realising we are not serving just individuals, but entire families. (Universities) have got to put strategies in place that recognise and engage with families,” stated Mr Lawrence.

He also found that nearly half of the foreign PhD students come to Australia with a partner or partner and family, and that the choice of city was just as important as the choice of country in determining the study destination.

Beyond family influence, nearly 40% of students had visited Australia before studying there. While most had come for a holiday and to visit family and friends, one in 10 had come on a study tour and more than 6% came to attend a graduation. These figures changed dramatically depending on source country, with 82% of Singaporean students, 56% of Malaysians and 46% of Indonesians having visited Australia at least once before.

Mr Lawrence said what surprised him was the level of “anonymous” on-the-ground research and information building that was going on, catching most institutions unaware.

“During their last visit, 38% visited the place where they are currently studying. A lot of them did it anonymously, being shown around by a friend or family member,” Mr Lawrence said.

“We have to assume every day on campus there are five, maybe 20, people just having a look around. And they are not so much interested in the outside of buildings, but what goes on inside.”

Other factors that have traditionally influenced institutional choice are quality of education, reputation of university in the home country, international rankings, social media, word-of-mouth from close acquaintances, permanent residency, lifestyle, and employment prospects.

In the US, parents are a powerful influence on students’ choices

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, parents in the US are showing deeper involvement in the college selection process, it was revealed at the 2012 Noel-Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention held in Chicago, Illinois this past summer.

Jamie Marinis, director of Student Retention Services at Tiffin University in Ohio identified parents as an “untapped resource.”

And Marjorie Savage, the director of the ‘Parent Program’ at the University of Minnesota, shared some of the generational and cultural shifts influencing parent involvement on today’s college campuses. She noted that because students and parents communicate so frequently these days (in many cases on a daily basis), when parents hear about student problems, they hear the student’s version first.

Communication is the key

In order to better connect with parents both before and during study abroad experiences, institutions and agents can consider offering various communication vehicles such as:

  • parent newsletters to keep parents well informed throughout the recruitment process
  • a parent portal site (such as the University of Minnesota’s site or the Klein Independent School District’s site)
  • a Facebook page exclusively for parents
  • a YouTube channel or playlist for parents
  • handbooks or PDFs (including a directory of campus contacts)
  • webinars for parents providing information as well as open Q&A time
  • a free parents club to help parents of prospective international students connect and share experiences with each other, as well as parents whose children are study abroad alumni

These communication channels give schools the opportunity to proactively address concerns parents may have over the quality of education provided, financial impact of studying abroad, services offered to international students, students’ mental and physical health, safety issues, cultural and lifestyle differences, and even dietary restrictions.

Ultimately, engaging parents – and siblings for that matter – is a potentially powerful student recruitment strategy that should not be overlooked or underestimated.



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